By Donna Stehling
In the UW Madison Press websites there is a reference to the North Coast Book website. Of the 12 books listed under recent and backlist, two Derleth books are featured: Walden West and The Wisconsin: River of a Thousand Isles. The books are described in the Recent and Backlist as popular across Wisconsin and the Midwest. With two books listed, Derleth appears to be popular there.
Some writers claim Derleth has a country which other writers do not. They say he writes of the land and its people – his land where he lives and his people, his family and neighbors. Evening in Spring, from which we created the playlet presented at our last dinner and gathering was published in the 1940s and this is considered his best. Being true to his country is important. It allows him to paint the scene and the characters come alive. It didn’t take much rehearsing to bring his people to life. The actors just remembered being a kid again and seeing the world through his eyes.
But Walden West and The Wisconsin: River of a Thousand Isles are also stories about the place where he lived and the people who lived here. The Wisconsin: River of a Thousand Isles begins with early exploration by French traders and Jesuit priests, mixes folklore with legend and presents Native people and ordinary people all the way to famous people like Black Hawk, Ringling Brothers, Frank Lloyd Wright and Zona Gail. Derleth’s writing creates a movie of that time in your head. You can see what’s happening as you read.
Derleth simply wrote about where he lived, its people and what they did. He wrote about what he noticed in nature – flowers blooming, rain falling, sky darkening. Even his Children’s books – the Steve and Sim series – are about his land and its people. It’s Derleth and his friend Hugo having adventures.
So prepare for this winter. With the summer we had, winter may be interesting. Promise yourself you will go to the library and take out Walden West or The Wisconsin: River of a Thousand Isles or purchase some as gifts for yourself and others. Then when it’s cold, winds howl and snow falls, you can turn off the TV, settle into some place comfortable and take a trip back in time. You will meet many people as you read, see the Wisconsin area and the river of a thousand isles, or you will walk the village streets, the surrounding prairie or crop lands and meet the neighbors. Allow yourself this adventure.